Those of us who like our art on the plate, as well as on the wall, have never had it so good. Many London galleries now boast high-quality restaurants, and several – the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery, to name but three – open late at weekends.
At Pharmacy 2, a collaboration between restaurateur Mark Hix and artist Damien Hirst in Hirst’s Stirling Prize-winning Newport Street Gallery, the link between art and restaurant is even closer. Like the Notting Hill original, closed in 2003, the dining room features many of Hirst’s works: several of his kaleidoscope butterfly paintings, a bar stuffed with surgical paraphernalia and shelves of neatly arranged medicine boxes. Strands of DNA are etched into the windows.
The menu is a steadying antidote to the psychedelic surroundings. It strays occasionally from the “local and seasonal” Hix mantra – crisp Tunisian brik pastry, for example, enclosing a soft-cooked duck egg and a blob of rose harissa, or a fragrant Vietnamese prawn salad, crunchy with cashews and shredded green mango – but there are also pink, richly flavoured lamb cutlets from Launceston with Jerusalem artichoke purée; trout from the Test in a Niçoise salad; and great hunks of lavishly marbled Glenarm Estate sirloin steak. And there is Hix’s signature “Heaven and Earth”: soft black pudding wrapped in caul fat, atop a potato and apple mash, guaranteed to satisfy even the most ravenous of culture vultures. The gallery opens until 10pm on Saturdays; the restaurant is open until midnight.
The Whitechapel Gallery’s Refectory, meanwhile, opens “after hours” from 6pm to 11pm on Thursdays (when the gallery is open until 9pm), Fridays and Saturdays. It has a strong pedigree: the operators are Luke Wilson and Cameron Emirali, who opened 10 Greek Street and 8 Hoxton Square together; here, as at their other outlets, the emphasis is on top-notch ingredients simply prepared, bolstered by a stellar wine list.
During the day, the café offers superior salads, sandwiches and cakes; at night, the space becomes a wine bar and Spanish charcutería and cheeses take centre stage. You might find cabecera curada, a fatty, peppery hybrid of ham and sausage; salchichón, made from Ibérico pork; and cheeses from the splendid Las RRR dairy in Granada, made from mountain goats’ milk, or with milk from Granada cattle. English cheeses get a look in as well: Barkham Blue, for instance, made on the Hampshire/Berkshire border with milk from Jersey and Guernsey cows.
There are tastings too: on Friday November 3, for example, try the range of craft ales from the excellent Redchurch Brewery, then purchase a bottle of your favourite tipple to partner some fine fodder in the Refectory. “Art”, said Pablo Picasso, “washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life”: after a long working week, something delicious to eat and drink is equally welcome.